Vehicles should have devices in them that make it impossible to use a cell phone when the car is moving, according to two researchers from West Virginia University, in a Viewpoint essay in the March 6 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), as Karen Kaplan reports for Associated Press in an article appearing on NorthJersey.com.
Jeffrey H. Coben, M.D., and Motao Zhu, Ph.D., write in their Viewpoint piece that from 2005 to 2009, fatalities related to distracted driving increased by 22%, despite considerable declines in overall accident-related fatalities. The researchers say that although there has been an increasing number of educational campaigns (including by insurance companies, safety advocates, transportation agencies, and public health agencies) and legislative efforts to reduce texting and handheld use of phones while driving, those efforts have not been effective.
“Compared with drivers not using cell phones while driving, the likelihood of a safety-critical event is 6 times higher for drivers dialing a cell phone and 23 times higher for those texting,” Coben and Zhu write.
As of December 2012, the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety reports that talking on a handheld cell phone while driving is banned in 10 states and the District of Columbia, the use of all cell phones by novice drivers is restricted in 32 states and the District of Columbia, and text messaging is banned for all drivers in 39 states and the District of Columbia. Many localities have enacted their own bans on cell phones or text messaging. The National Transportation Safety Board has called for a nationwide ban on driver use of portable electronic devices while operating a motor vehicle. However, current evidence suggests that these efforts are inadequate.
Coben and Zhu wrote: “As individuals continue to use their cell phones nearly continuously throughout the day, for both business and pleasure, they will continue to be tempted to use this technology — if available — while driving,” Associated Press reports. The researchers would not prevent hands-free systems that let a driver dial by voice and that translate text messages into computer speech, but only if studies find that those systems do not contribute to distracted driving, AP writes.
The study concludes that failure to implement the measures the essay recommends “will result in the continued loss of thousands of lives each year to this preventable public safety hazard,” AP reports.
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